Dive into the Night
“Now then, those two others that I observed on my way here. Are they acquaintances of yours?” Shinigami Sensei asked Leon.
“May and Touma? They’re my t- “Leon paused for a moment. “Yeah, they’re my friends.”
“I see, they appear to be moving in this direction so I can assume they are looking for you. Perhaps we can speak as we move towards them.”
Another screech cried out from the dark zone, as another group of wyvern Nightmares flew towards Leon and Shinigami Sensei. Leon summoned his spear in one hand as he repaired his mana shield with the other. Shinigami Sensei took a step towards the Nightmares.
“How rude, barging into our conversation like so. Even after an eternity, I still find myself detesting uninvited guests.”
Shinigami Sensei swung his scythe towards the group of Nightmares, instantly turning all of them into black mist. Leon watched in disbelief as the wyverns were wiped out in an instant. Shinigami Sensei turned back towards him, his scythe instantly disappeared as he let go of it.
“Shall we go? Ah, but it might be good to have a precaution against any more interruptions before we reach your friends.”
Shinigami Sensei snapped his fingers. Leon blinked and noticed that the world around him was slightly darker, he looked down and saw a dark transparent layer over his body.
“Now we can speak in peace.”
Leon and Shinigami sensei began their conversation as they walked back in the direction of the fake sun.
“As I have said, I have much to ask of you, my child. I do hope you will indulge my curiosity.”
“Sure,” Leon replied casually. “Ask away. Although I do have a couple questions of my own I would like answered.”
“Of course, you may ask them first if you wish.”
“Alright. Sensei, who are you really? You’re certainly not human.”
“Ah, I can appreciate a straightforward question. Indeed, you are correct in deducing that I am not human. My existence predates all life on Earth, perhaps it would be more appropriate to call me a concept rather than a being. Throughout generations, humanity has referred to me by many different names. Death. The Grim Reaper. The man in black. Although my role remains unchanging. I am the herald at the end of life. The father that all living things will eventually return to. You may call me whatever you wish, for the significance of a name matters most to those who speak it."
“I guess I’ll continue using Shinigami Sensei, if that’s alright.”
“If that is what you wish, I shall respect your decision.”
“So, the second question is kind of in two parts,” prefaced Leon. ”Why the name ‘Shinigami Sensei’ and why are you a podcaster?”
“I had a desire to break up the endless monotony of my eternal existence. The advancements of the current age far exceeded that of humanity’s entire history. I found that this ‘podcasting’ activity was one where I was free to speak my thoughts, for I had an eternity of experience that I could speak from. As for the name I use, I had also learned of ‘marketability’ throughout my observation of the modern age. I fell upon a name that was eye-catching, memorable, and related back to my true purpose. And so, Shinigami Sensei. Does that sate your curiosity?”
“I guess it does, thanks Sensei. So what was it that you wanted to ask me?”
“I suppose I should start by asking how you are able to access the Dream, when no human had set foot in the Dream for hundreds of years.”
That does kind of line up with what he told us. Leon thought to himself for a second.
“My friends and I were all pulled into the Dream on separate nights, by this one figure calling himself a guide. He told us that we were brought in to fight the Nightmares that were appearing in the Dream.”
“Nightmare? Those creatures that appeared from the black mist?”
“I see, and who is this ‘guide’ you speak of. Do you recall his name or his appearance? And where is he now?"
“He called himself ‘Oire’ and he wore a ragged brown cloak that covered his entire body. He never actually revealed his face to any of us,” Leon answered. “In fact, we haven’t seen him since the first couple of days in the Dream.”
Shinigami Sensei remained silent for a moment as they continued to walk.
“This situation is quite strange indeed, my child. The guide named Oire no longer exists in the Dream. He faded from existence after the last human left the Dream hundreds of years ago. I know not of who the current ‘Oire’ is, but I would suspect that he is connected with the appearance of the Nightmares.”
“He’s helping both sides?” Leon said, slightly confused. “Why would he even be helping the Nightmares when they’re supposedly destroying the Dream?”
“As of now, it is only a possibility. The Nightmares you speak of did not exist in the Dream prior to the appearance of this new ‘Oire’. Would you care to relay everything else he told you?”
Leon reiterated everything that Oire told him during their first meeting to Shinigami Sensei, from Oire’s explanation of the Dream to his warnings about overexposure.
“I see,” Shinigami Sensei acknowledged. “Everything you heard would have been knowledge the real ‘Oire’ knew, yet it is strange why he spoke of the Nightmares. In addition, Oire personally trained the humans he brought into the Dream; he did not leave them to fend for themselves.”
Shinigami Sensei looked towards the distance.
“It would appear that your friends have arrived.”
Leon looked up to see May and Touma in the far distance.
“I suppose I shall ask my next question after they arrive,” Shinigami Sensei said as he looked back. “We should hopefully be outside the range of those creatures, I shall lift the veil so that your friends can locate us.”
Shinigami Sensei snapped his fingers, the transparent layer that covered both of them instantly disappeared.
May and Touma ran down the hill as they looked towards the distance. May spotted Leon and Shinigami Sensei as she looked down towards the open valley.
“Touma, I think I found Leon,” she said as she pointed.
“It’s good to see that he’s safe,” Touma replied. “But, who’s that with him?”
May and Touma walked up to Leon and Shinigami Sensei. Touma looked at Shinigami Sensei before looking at Leon.
“Hey Leon, glad you’re still safe,” Touma started to say.
“If definitely could have gone worse,” Leon quickly replied.
“And … uh, who’s this?” Touma asked as he pointed at Shinigami Sensei.
“The Grim Reaper?” May guessed.
“I suppose my appearance does little to hide my identity, regardless you are indeed correct, my child,” Shinigami Sensei answered. “Although, a different appearance may be a bit more, approachable.”
Shinigami Sensei removed his hood from his head, revealing a human-like appearance. His face gave off the appearance of an older man somewhere in his forties, with his skin being a somewhat pale white. The two most distinct features were his dark red eyes and his shoulder-length white hair.
“He was the one who saved me from the dark zone,” Leon added. “Here, it might be better if I explained."
Leon summarized his conversation with Shinigami Sensei for May and Touma, catching them up with all the information the two exchanged.
“I … I see. So Shinigami Sensei has come to the Dream in order to investigate both Oire and the Nightmares? And he’s a podcaster?” Touma repeated back.
“Yeah, just don’t worry about that last part,” Leon said to Touma. “Anyways, what was it you wanted to talk to all of us about, Sensei?”
“Well, from how you conduct yourselves, I am able to tell that you are all experienced in combating these Nightmares. As such, I believe I can share my reasoning for investigating the Dream. The first is the sudden reappearance of Oire, and the humans he has brought into the Dream. Oire’s purpose was to train humans in the Dream so that they could become heroes in reality. However, as the age of gods and heroes faded, so did Oire’s purpose. There is no explanation why he would reappear so suddenly, and with a radically different goal. My only hypothesis is that this being is not Oire, but something imitating him. Which leads into the second part of my investigation. Something is currently altering the state of the Dream, which I believe is the explanation for the Nightmares. As of right now, there are six locations of particular interest.”
“Do you know where they are?” asked Touma. “I have a map of the Dream from Oire that might be useful.”
Touma summoned the map of the Dream in front of Shinigami Sensei.
“Indeed I do, my child. However, it does lead to another question for you.”
Shinigami Sensei marked the six locations on Touma’s map, all of them within the dark zone. There was a mark at the forest, tundra, mountain, industrial zone, ruined city, and the desert.
“Do you have any knowledge of that cloud of black mist? Every single one of the investigation points lie within that mist.”
“Unfortunately, we have very little to go off of,” Touma replied. “The only two beings we met in the Dream both told us to avoid it as much as we can.”
Shinigami Sensei turned to Leon.
“What about you, my child? You made your way out of that darkness, were there any objects of note that you observed?”
“Wait, that thing dragged you all the way into the dark zone?” Touma asked. “What was it like?”
“Well, from here it just looks like a cloud of black smoke,” Leon began to explain. “But once you’re inside, it just looks like night. There was a pale moon and some stars in the sky that served the same purpose as the fake sun. There were also Nightmares everywhere, so it’s very likely that is where they were coming from.”
Leon stopped and thought for a second.
“And, there was also this weird pillar. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was on top of the only mountain in the dark zone. Something about it just felt out of place, like it shouldn’t belong there.”
“Intriguing,” Shinigami Sensei said in response. “It is very possible that pillar is what I am looking for. In fact, it may even be your target for ending the Nightmares.”
“Alright, so … we’re going into the dark zone then?” Touma asked.
“Hang on, Touma,” Leon quickly said in response. “We need a plan before we charge in recklessly.”
“Do not worry, my children,” Shinigami Sensei began to say. “The investigation is also mine to conduct, so I shall accompany you into the mist. My veil of shadows should keep the Nightmares unaware of our intrusion.”
Shinigami Sensei snapped his fingers again and applied the barrier to the entire party.
“Now, shall we go?”
As the group entered the mist, they noticed what Leon spoke of earlier. The light from the fake sun completely disappeared and was replaced by the light from the pale moon and stars.
“You guys should be able to see the mountain already, although that pillar is not visible yet,” Leon said as he pointed towards the distance.
“Yeah … I can see it,” Touma replied.
“Mm hmm,” May added.
Leon noticed that Shinigami Sensei was glancing around the area.
“Is something wrong, Sensei?” he asked. “I thought you said that the Nightmares can’t see through this barrier.”
“Yes, in that you are correct. However, I … cannot actually see through the thickness of this mist. As a matter of fact, my sight radius appears to be around five metres. Perhaps you are able to see as a result of your connection with the Dream, or perhaps with ‘Oire’.”
After a short walk up the only mountain in the dark zone, the party finally reached the summit. They approached the only object on the mountain’s peak, a long thin rod that floated just off the ground. The rod was around two metres long, but was only about twenty centimetres wide.
“This must be it,” Shinigami Sensei said as he approached the object. “The anchor that pulled the Nightmares to the Dream.”
Shinigami Sensei reached out to the anchor, but his hand passed right through it.
“Ah, that is somewhat of a problem.”
“What’s wrong?” Leon asked.
“It would appear that whoever created these anchors placed one condition as a failsafe, only those who are connected to the Dream can interact with it.”
“So one of us has to destroy it?”
“No, not destroy. This object requires a fundamental understanding of its structure in order to remove it. I shall impart my knowledge to you.”
Shinigami Sensei pointed at Leon and created a small black band on his left wrist.
“You should be able to interact with the anchor now,” Shinigami Sensei said before turning to Touma and May. “We will have to defend him as he breaks the anchor apart, so have your weapons ready.”
As Leon placed his left hand on the anchor, he quickly lost consciousness.
Leon found himself floating in a completely black space. He could neither see nor hear.
What is this place? He thought to himself. Is this inside of the anchor?
As Leon continued to float he could hear something being spoken through the void.
Leon was suddenly blinded by a brilliant flash of light, he closed his eyes to avoid the blinding sight. When he reopened his eyes, he found himself in a different location, a cliff overlooking an ocean. He looked up and saw a clear sky full of stars. He then heard the voice again, but it was clearer.
“Where … am … I? What … is … this place?”
The light from the sky slowly faded as Leon was swallowed up by the darkness.
As Leon was interacting with the anchor, wyvern Nightmares began to circle the peak as Leon was out of Shinigami Sensei’s barrier. Touma swept his hair up as he began to channel a light arrow.
“Now we play our role,” Shinigami Sensei said as he summoned his scythe.
He slashed at the wyverns, instantly destroying the group that charged at him. Touma stood behind Shinigami Sensei and fired a light arrow at another Nightmare, hitting it in the stomach and knocking it down instantly. Another one flanked Touma from his right side, he turned and attempted to fire another arrow; but it failed to materialize. Before the wyvern could strike Touma, May slammed into it from above; pinning the creature to the ground.
“I know you’re sad about Saya and all, but don’t just stand there while we fight,” she said as she jumped past him.
“First of all, my light arrow didn’t materialize. Second, you heard that?!”
May landed beside Leon and looked over at him.
“I can’t defend you and Leon at the same time you know. If you’re going to be useless, just stand behind Sensei.”
Touma moved behind Shinigami Sensei as he continued to wipe out the attacking wyverns. Just then the anchor shattered into pieces and was absorbed by Leon’s left hand. Leon fell backwards as the anchor disappeared completely, May caught him and helped him stand up. At the same time, a shockwave dispersed across the region with the anchor’s destruction. Every Nightmare hit by the shockwave cried out before fading to black mist. The shockwave also cleared the mist from the area, it also returned the sky back to normal. The fake sun’s orange light now illuminated the mountain peak.
“I see,” Shinigami Sensei began to say as he turned to the party. “It seems like our cooperation may not be entirely finished.”